DALLAS — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have rooms across the hall from one another at Miami’s team hotel in Dallas, which was convenient after Game 4 of the NBA finals.
They needed to talk.
And despite all the questions that have arisen after James’ eight-point effort on Tuesday night — the first time in 90 career playoff games where the two-time NBA MVP was held to single digits in scoring — Wade emerged from that late-night strategy session convinced as ever in his superstar Heat teammate.
“Eventually,” Wade said Wednesday, “he’s going to do something amazing, and it’s going to put us over the top.”
Game 5 is James’ next opportunity.
The Heat and Dallas Mavericks are tied at two games apiece in these NBA finals, which resume Thursday night before shifting back to Miami for Game 6 on Sunday and, possibly, a winner-take-all Game 7 on Tuesday night. It’s a best-of-three series now.
“I think it’s that time,” James said. “I think it’s that time that I try to get myself going individually.”
Said Wade: “Sounds good to me.”
James’ words surely sound good to the rest of the Heat, too. Come Thursday, everyone will be waiting to see whether he bounces back from a stunning Game 4 statline. He was more than 20 points below his career playoff average, shooting only 3-for-11 in Miami’s 86-83 loss.
So far in the finals, he has nine points in the fourth quarter. To put that in perspective, Dirk Nowitzki had 10 in the final quarter of Game 4 alone.
“I didn’t play well, especially offensively. I know that,” James said. “I’ve got to do a better job of helping this team win basketball games, especially late, no matter what it is. If that’s getting an offensive rebound, like I said, making a couple of baskets, being more aggressive to give my guys opportunities to get open looks. I have to do that. That’s what my job is. That’s what I’m here for.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Miami will make some adjustments to help James’ offensive flow in Game 5. The Mavericks might be providing James with some help as well.
On the eve of Game 5, Dallas guard DeShawn Stevenson directed some sharp words toward James, saying he “checked out” in the final minutes of Game 4 on Tuesday night.
“That’s good for us,” Stevenson said after practice Wednesday.
Stevenson isn’t worried about the perception of his comments, either.
Stevenson was saying that the Heat are still getting to know each other, that James wasn’t himself in Game 4 and that the two-time MVP is “talented enough that he can use anything in the paper to kind of boost his ego.”
James was unbothered, at least outwardly, by his latest give-and-take with Stevenson.
“DeShawn, he’s been talking for a long time, since our Washington-Cleveland days,” James said. “I don’t let that get to us. Those guys are playing well. We’re playing well. It’s a three-game series. Talk is cheap. You have to play the game of basketball. Let the scores and the plays define the game.”
When saying this series is even, it goes deeper than saying each team has won two games so far in the finals. Through four games, some of the statistical similarities are absurd.
— Points: Miami is averaging 89, Dallas 87.8.
— Rebounds: Dallas is averaging 40, Miami 39.
— Field-goal percentage: Miami 42.8, Dallas 41.4.
— 3-point percentage: Miami 34.5, Dallas 34.2.
In short, the Heat and Mavericks are even so far.
“We’re in an absolute heavyweight bout, and that’s the way it should be,” Spoelstra said. “It’s as even a series as it can be. Right now there’s no ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ Both teams have done the same thing. Won on each other’s court, and won one game on their home court.”
James said he watched the tape of the Game 4 loss before calling it a night on Tuesday, then watched more film after waking on Wednesday, and Spoelstra pulled the Heat together for another video session before their workout.
It was not easy to watch.
And there was more than enough blame to go around.
“Bottom line is, LeBron is a great player,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “Great players get a lot of criticism sometimes when their teams don’t win. It’s not necessarily something that he did wrong. He found me for a great shot in the corner, didn’t go in. Got Chris (Bosh) a couple of shots, those didn’t go in. We make those shots, it’s a different outcome and it’s probably different story to write the next day.”
True, LeBronwatch remained in full effect Wednesday.
Wade was spectacular in Game 4, 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting. Bosh played his best game, by far, of the finals by scoring 24 points. Neither registered much of a blip on the getting-noticed screen.
“I criticized myself,” James said. “I was hard on myself all last night. Anytime I feel like I could have played better and the team loses, that’s what it’s all about. If I have a bad game and we win, I’m hard on myself, but at the end of the day we win the basketball game.”
James now has logged more court time than anyone in the NBA this season — 3,898 minutes and 38 seconds — and deferred when asked if fatigue was much of a factor for his struggles. He simply blamed what happened Tuesday on not being in rhythm, aiming his jumpers too much instead of trusting himself on the release, maybe spending too much time facilitating others instead of looking for his own points.
The sense around the Heat is that will change somewhat for Game 5.
If that’s the case, Wade said he thinks good things will happen for Miami. Some words from James helped Wade get back on track after he was struggling in the Eastern Conference finals against Chicago. Now, Wade hopes something he says can help James find his best groove again, with an NBA title in the balance.
“We’ve got each other’s back. We believe in each other,” Wade said. “Like I said, eventually LeBron is going to do something so great, you know, that I believe what he did in Game 4 won’t even be a topic of conversation.”
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